Then two came along. After years of mockery, of jokes about trophyless seasons, Arsenal has now seen the FA Cup in succession. There seems to be a change in mood and atmosphere. Arsenal is now buzzing, the Emirates stadium a place that is once more being conditioned to the habit of winning. Pre-season trophies such as the Barclays Asia Trophy and the Emirates Cup are adding to this, while just like the FA Cup, the traditional English season curtain -raiser — the Community Shield — has been won back to back.
It thus begs the question, can the Premier League title be conquered?
It is a question that invariably points towards Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman has been at the center of everything that Arsenal has done since his arrival in November 1996. He is, after Sir Alex Ferguson, the one manager who so embodies a football club. Wenger is synonymous with Arsenal, and thus when the question is asked whether Arsenal can win the Premier League, it is another way of asking whether Wenger can himself deliver the title.
A brief history of Arsenal in the Premier League
Arsenal’s Premier League eras can probably be divided into four phases. The first phase encompasses the pre-Wenger era. During this period between 1992 and 1996, Arsenal averaged a points tally of 60 points, with an average position of 7th or 8th. This period saw what would now be considered lows, with Arsenal even finishing 10th and 12th in the 1993-1993 and 1994-1995 seasons respectively.
Then came Wenger and Arsenal’s fortunes changed drastically. Wenger brought the glory years of Arsenal. Between 1996 and 2006, Arsenal’s average points tally shot up to 78 points, helped increasingly by the title wins in the 1997-1998, 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 seasons.
Beyond just averaging a high points tally, Arsenal also regularly finished within the top two, seemingly engaged in a two-horse race with Manchester United for the Premier League. They also completed League and FA Cup doubles in 1998 and 2002, while also managing to reach continental cup finals, losing on penalties to Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup in 2000 and to Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final.
Arsenal’s Premier League Years
|Premier League Years
|Post Invincibles (2004-2015)||Wenger Years
|Average Position||4th||7th/8th||2nd||3rd/4th||2nd/ 3rd|
Most remarkably however was the 2003-2004 season when Arsenal went a whole season unbeaten. The remarkable feat became one of its kind in a league as competitive as that in England. The elegance of the play, the rapidity of attack and the dominance of games brought with it a beauty of art and the culmination of Wenger’s ideals.
Then came Arsenal’s third phase, where they dropped from an average position of 1st or 2nd, to an average position of 3rd or 4th. The average points tally dropped from 78 points to 67 points. Title run ins became few and far with the average elimination stage of the Champions League falling to the Round of 16.
The competitive Premier League years
This phase can however be mitigated by the various contexts that existed, particularly the coinciding of the debt occasioned by the moving from Highbury to the Emirates, and the arrival of Roman Abramovich into English football. One incident meant that Arsenal could no longer spend as much as they wanted, while another brought in a rise in spending power at Chelsea. With it, the overall spending power of the league rose, with Manchester United also having to spend so as to keep up with Chelsea, while Manchester City also joined the party with their ludicrous spending power.
Another factor that changed was the arrival of Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez at Chelsea and Liverpool respectively in 2004. These managers brought in new methods of managing English clubs, much like how Wenger had revolutionised English football himself in 1996. Squad rotation and an emphasis on midfield heavy formations, such as the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-3 turned the Premier League. In turn, the Premier League’s competitive edge was pushed upwards.
Premier League Champions
|Premier League Years
|Pre- Mourinho & Benitez
Mourinho & Benitez
Before Mourinho and Benitez, the Premier League champions averaged 84 points, whereas after that, this nudged up to 88 points. To be Premier League champions, a club had to be nearer the 90 point mark than ever before. Times such as the 1996-1997 season when Manchester United claimed the title with 75 points are long gone, and since 2004, the only time a Premier League champion had less than 85 points was United’s 80 points in the 2010-2011 season.
A new Arsenal era?
All this seems to be firmly in Wenger’s thinking, considering his activity in the transfer market over the past three seasons.
In 2011, Arsenal signed Mesut Oezil from Real Madrid for £42.5 million, before following that up a season later with the signing of Alexis Sanchez for £35 million from Barcelona. These signings represented a significant step away from the Wenger principle – they were expensive signings.
They were also high quality signings, and signings that should make any squad better. That combined with the fact that for the first time since the post-invincibles season, Arsenal boast a squad that has continuity, with no major departures from the key members of the squad.
It is why Arsenal’s attacking play is now more fluid. Those imaginative triangles of passing and speed of thought in attack have been enhanced by having the same key members of the squad over the course of three seasons and more.
There is also a newer solidity in defence, mostly attributed to the addition of Steve Bould to the coaching set up, but also conditioned by the growing relationship of steady defensive partners. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have played together for so long and that is a plus, while Wenger seems to have settled upon Hector Bellerin as his first choice right back and Nacho Monreal as the left back. Adding to this has been the sturdiness of the young Francis Coquelin in defensive midfield, who is the sort of player Arsenal has lacked to follow in the footsteps of Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva and Alexander Song.
Can Arsenal win the Premier League?
However, whether this squad can now deliver the title is up to the practicalities of a Premier league season. It should be noted that Arsenal’s average points tally over the course of the 23 Premier League seasons is 72 points, whereas the average points tally of Premier League champions in that period is 86 points. It means Arsenal still have a 14 point gap to cover if everything is kept constant.
A huge encouragement in this regard is the signing of goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea. The goalkeeper is experienced enough and has won the Premier League title four times. His mere presence alone makes the Arsenal rear guard seem more solid and when he signed for Arsenal, Chelsea’s captain John Terry remarked that he could guarantee Arsenal an extra 12-15 points.
All this points to Arsenal competing for the title this term. The only drawback seems to be that Arsenal still look a striker short, with Olivier Giroud, for all the positives that he adds to Arsenal’s play seemingly a few notches away from being a super forward. If anything, three of the last four Premier League winners were revitalised by the signing of a super forward to get them out of trouble in the tightest of games – Manchester City with Sergio Aguero in the 2011-2012 season, Manchester United with Robin van Persie a season later and Chelsea with Diego Costa last season.
With Arsenal in the market for a striker – presumably eyeing Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema – then the Arsenal jigsaw puzzle may be complete. Even without the signing of a super forward however, Arsenal still look in great shape to challenge for the title. In an era when Manchester United are still in transition, Manchester City still look dependant on its individual stars rather than the team and when Chelsea are suffering the champions dilemma of not knowing who to sign to a team that delivered the title last season, Arsenal cannot be ruled out of a possible Premier League challenge.